Third Sunday of Lent
Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 18:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
7 March 2021
Breaking open the word
There is nothing like a child’s confidence in his or her mother. Witnessing my niece bump her chin on the playground, I was amazed by the way she sped to my sister, eyes blinded with tears, and flung herself into the waiting arms. How many of us wish we had the childlike confidence to do the same thing with God when the ups and downs of life knock us around!
The end of today’s Gospel, however, implies that the reverse is also true: God longs to entrust himself to us, to find a welcome home in our hearts. While many in Jerusalem saw Jesus’ signs and believed, something was still amiss, and Jesus “did not trust himself to them” (Jn 2:24).
The only explanation given for this by St John is that Jesus “could tell what a man had in him” (Jn 2:25). Just as the forecourt of the Temple had become so cluttered by the merchants and money changers that it looked more like a market than like the Father’s house, so too, the human heart.
The first reading reminds us of ten basic attitudes which clutter our hearts and even can make them “inhospitable” to God: idolatry, irreverence, workaholism and its Siamese twin, sloth, ingratitude, hatred, lust, greed, deceit, envy.
But lest we be tempted to despair, knowing our habitual struggles and weaknesses, the second reading reminds us of the remedy: not a “miracle cure” or a “wise” self-help strategy, but the crucified Christ—the power and wisdom of God. For “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that all who believe in him might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Therefore, we can be confident that he is not scandalised by our market-place hearts, but rather is just waiting for us to invite him in.
At the last supper, Jesus promised: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23). Now, “home-making” is messy business, as any parent can attest, and when Jesus starts flipping the tables of our treasured grudges, daydreams and expectations, the feathers will fly, to say the least. We might want to complain, like the people in the Gospel that “it has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary!” But his resurrection is the proof that whatever our dreams may be, they are nothing compared with his dreams for us.
The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead desires to live and work in us (cf. Rm 8:11). May the Holy Trinity find a welcome home in your heart this Sunday—not a perfect heart, but a heart willing to trust and to let him do unbelievable things in your life.
SR SUSANNA EDMUNDS OP
Reflecting on the Gospel through Art
Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple – Domenikos Theotokopoulos (known as El Greco) (1541–1614)
Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple (c. 1610–1614). Oil on canvas, 106.3 cm × 129.7 cm. National Gallery, London. Public Domain.
Jesus enters the Jerusalem Temple in anger, cleansing it of commercial enterprise. His observers are shocked—where is his authority for doing this? It is his resurrection. He will raise up the sanctuary they are soon to destroy, the sanctuary which is his Body. Only at Easter would this sink in for the disciples.
God’s presence, once thought to be localised in the sanctuary of the Temple, now resides in the Body of Christ as we saw last Sunday in the event we call the transfiguration. Do we have to wait for death before we can see that Body, and thus God’s glory?
St Paul gives us the answer. We are the body of Christ. Now God dwells among his people, the Church. The early Christians were so convinced of this that they called the building constructed for worship the “House for the Church” (Domus Ecclesiae). It is the people who are the Church, not the building. The building simply houses the Church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul adds: “Didn’t you realise that you were
God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple” (1 Co 3:16–17).
Like the Jerusalem Temple, we have been sullied by commerce. Lent is the time to restore prayer and holiness so that Christ’s Body may truly speak with his voice and touch with his healing power. If the world believes the Church is losing ground, it is a judgement on us who are the Church. It is a sobering thought and an incredible challenge to the modern Christian. But remember the words we used to sing (perhaps glibly) in the hymn to Our Lady of Lourdes, referring to “the tempest-tossed Church”? The Church has never been without problems (read the history of the popes). Perhaps the “Good Pope” (John XXIII) saw in prophecy what he was unleashing when he prayed that the Second Vatican Council would be a new Pentecost, the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit cleansing a stagnant Church.
Simone Weil, a philosopher beloved by Pope John Paul II, wrote: “You cannot be born in a better epoch than that in which all has been lost.” In other words, perhaps in the past we took too much for granted. Perhaps we even hid behind the institution. The future is ours to make.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos is known to us simply as El Greco (“the Greek”). He was born around 1541 in Crete, then part of the Republic of Venice. He travelled to Venice in his mid-20s and studied under Titian, the most renowned painter of his day. Around the age of 35, he moved to Toledo in Spain and worked there for the rest of his life. He is remembered chiefly for his elongated, tortured figures, often religious in nature, the style of which at first baffled his contemporaries. He is seen now as the precursor of expressionism and cubism. Interestingly, during a stay in Rome, he criticised Michelangelo’s artistic abilities which led him to be ostracised by the Roman art establishment.
The account of the purification of the Temple is found in all four Gospels. Jesus had gone to celebrate Passover, but found people there selling sheep, oxen and doves for sacrifice. Angry that his Father’s house was being used for profit, he made “a whip out of some chord, (and) drove them out of the Temple” (Jn 2:15). It was not only that a place of prayer was being used for commerce, it was the fact that poor people were being “ripped off” by the money changers. Roman coins were considered blasphemous because they carried the Emperor’s head with the Latin inscription: “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest,” and so were not allowed in the Temple precincts. The Temple tax and the money used to buy offerings for sacrifice had to be paid with Temple coinage, hence the need for money changers. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the many times his own parents were cheated?
El Greco painted this subject at least four times, but our version is the most dramatic. In the 16th Century, the episode was seen as a parallel to the cleansing of the Church through the reforms of the Counter-Reformation, and often featured on medals made for the popes. El Greco has used exaggerated gestures and intense colours to reinforce the message of his picture. Christ’s energy and his anger is expressed through his movement—his right hand raised ready to strike the man draped in the vibrant yellow cloth. Jesus’ body twists like a spring ready to uncoil. The man in yellow mirrors Christ’s pose—he recoils, arching his back and raising his hand to protect his face. This causes a domino effect—the figures behind him leaning backwards to avoid being struck.
The figures on the other side of Christ, probably the apostles, are much calmer. They look on at the scene and whisper among themselves. The man in the foreground with the grey beard is Peter, recognisable by his traditional blue and yellow robes. El Greco has pared down the scene simply for dramatic effect. We see none of the sacrificial animals and birds, just a few cringing individuals, and on the extreme left, a single person struggling to lift a box of coins. The figures are painted larger than life-size in proportion to the Temple building, and if the kneeling figure of St Peter were to stand, he would tower over all the others.
But of great interest are the two sculpted reliefs high in the background on each side of the open entrance. The left shows the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by the angel with a fiery sword. El Greco obviously saw this as a prelude to the expulsion of the merchants. The relief on the right side illustrates Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, foretelling the sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross. But Christ remains the key figure, inflicting punishment on the traders with his right hand, while signalling reassurance to the apostles with his left hand.
El Greco died on 7 April 1614 unappreciated in his time, with the art world waiting two and a half centuries before recognising his status as a master.
MGR GRAHAM SCHMITZER
Sr Susanna Edmunds OP grew up participating in Holy Mass and youth groups in the Diocese of Broken Bay where she received a love for Sacred Scripture and evangelisation. While studying engineering at the University of Sydney, she discovered the beauty of Eucharistic Adoration, regular Confession and faith-filled friendships through the Catholic student society and chaplaincy. World Youth Day 2008 brought Pope Benedict XVI and several hundred thousand pilgrims to Sydney’s shores, along with many religious congregations. Supported by friends and family, Sr Susanna discerned an invitation from the Lord to belong to him with an undivided heart. She joined the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia in 2010, moving to Nashville TN, USA, where the community’s motherhouse is located. After completing further studies in philosophy, theology and secondary education, Sr Susanna began teaching in 2015. She made her final profession as a religious in 2017, and since 2018 has been teaching high school religion at Trinity Catholic College in Auburn, NSW. The sisters teach at four schools across Sydney and Melbourne, as well as assisting with young adult catechesis, women’s retreats and vocation discernment.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years, he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.